The sharp-witted actress who earned Sherlock Holmes’ admiration offers her own recollections in this first installment of a Conan Doyle–inspired series.
Irene Adler begins her “case book” by describing how she disguises herself as a frumpy older woman to become Holmes’ housekeeper. He appears to buy her masquerade, although when he’s high on cocaine, he calls her by her real name. Irene then circles back to describe how she has, after “patchy if unspectacular success” as an actress, joined a bohemian group of justice-seeking avengers self-dubbed the Club des As, after an aristocratic lover swiped a beloved brooch. She proceeds to recount the group’s adventures, which are largely focused on righting society’s wrongs or at least puncturing its pretensions: kidnapping racists to teach them a lesson; forging a Millais painting, which fools even Holmes; and switching out letters being used against an Oscar Wilde–type club member, a scam that Holmes at least partially unravels. Irene’s account culminates with her perspective on the King of Bohemia case (where she first appeared in Doyle’s fiction), which reveals why she became Holmes’ housekeeper and battled Professor Moriarty with him at Reichenbach Falls. Edinburgh-based Cassimally has created a fun, feminist twist on the Holmes canon, fleshing out a character who was only briefly mentioned yet, in Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia,” received the ultimate accolade: “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.” Irene provides wonderfully acerbic observances on a host of topics, particularly on Holmes himself: for instance, “I discovered that he had no ear for irony.” Occasionally, her libertinelike persona is a bit disturbing, however, as when she falls in love—or at least lust—with a child murderer. More problematic is the narrative’s episodic, somewhat chronologically confused construction, which gets a bit bogged down with some less-than-stellar cases and may displease readers looking for a more linear path to solving the Irene/Holmes relationship. Still, the showdown at Reichenbach Falls is worth the wait, serving as a powerful cliffhanger and launchpad for The Memoirs of Irene Adler, the already published second book of the series.
Compelling if at times convoluted “herstory” of Holmes’ famous woman.